SUBJECTS: BER Recognition ceremonies; PM’s Senate debacle; Katter Party candidate
Journalist: Let me bring into the conversation Christopher Pyne, Shadow Minister for Education. Christopher, good morning…
Hon Christopher Pyne MP: Good Morning Pete.
Journalist: This has got to be a gee up surely?
Pyne: Well you’ve got to remember that the first amount of money they spent on the BER, $1.6 million was to put up signs at schools before the projects had even begun, praising the Federal Government for the school hall programme.
Journalist: That was twelve months out from an election as well.
Pyne: Yeah, exactly. That was before the projects even began. And of course, years after the projects where supposed to have been finished, you know this was supposed to be a Global Financial Crisis response, which is now a distant memory for some people, the last amount of money they want to spend is more praise, more self promotion for Julia Gillard and her Government in an election year.
Journalist: It really is a spend-a-thon once again isn’t it? They didn’t learn the first time, that yeah you know, we blew all the money in the coffers but here we go again. They are going to spend a little bit more money now and celebrate the fact and pat themselves on the back for all of the good work that they have done with the BER. Seriously, was it good work?
Pyne: Well they are brutally cynical and it is an election year and they are desperate to be re-elected. But you’ve got to remember that $16.4 billion was spent on the school hall programme. Some estimates say that up to 50% of that, or $8 billion was overvalued. And business and construction got that overvalue. And of course now they could have spent that money on the Gonski reforms for student outcomes, for teacher quality, for a robust curriculum. Instead of course they spent it on school halls, many of which as you know had shocking problems with them and were in some cases a vast waste of money. In some cases they were very useful. But the one thing that everyone agrees with – they were overvalued.
Journalist: Definitely, and the other big failure of the scheme as well – there was no flexibility for any of the schools to pick and choose what they wanted. Plenty of schools that run out demountable classrooms these days and they would have been better of building some classrooms, more permanent classrooms instead of working and teaching out of demountables for example.
Pyne: There’s no doubt about that and one of the real tragedies of these school hall programme was that the non-government schools got to decide what they wanted and needed and got to run their own projects. The Government schools were given a cookie cut-out school hall or library and in many, many cases the schools said, well actually, we don’t want this, what we want is new school buildings, new classrooms etcetera, but they were told, no you will have this or you will have nothing. I think it is a great sadness that $16.4 billion which was a spend-a-thon as you put it could have been spent so much better, particularly on better teacher quality and better student outcomes.
Journalist: And coming into an election as well, the cynic in me just says, hang on. As soon as I read this yesterday, you know the alarm bells lit up. Here we are, they are going to have big school assemblies, where the minister is going to attend or a representative from the education department is going to attend these ceremonies and no doubt parents will be invited to these school assemblies, the ceremonies as well. And the cynic in me just says, hang on, election year; you know we are patting ourselves on the back. I just love this line, acknowledge the Australian Government’s assistance in all speeches and publicity issued by the school, such as newsletters, websites or local media articles, come off it. Seriously.
Pyne: Well it’s the kind of detail and requirement for praising the government that you’d expect in East Germany in the 1950’s I think Pete. And the truth is it won’t be Coalition Members of Parliament that will be a Minister’s representative, it will always be a Labor Member of Parliament or a Labor Senator. This is all about the election, it’s all about winning the election in 2013, it’s a brutally cynical exercise and has nothing what so ever to do with better outcomes for our students.
Journalist: But seriously, couldn’t somebody have said ‘hang on the BER, we buggered it up, it wasn’t all that popular there‘s a lot of negative publicity that went with it and a lot of people very unhappy with what happened with the BER, maybe we should just ignore it as we move into this election and come up with a new policy and divert people’s attention to something else, but they’ve regurgitated this and they’re going to draw attention to their mistakes.
Pyne: Well I think the Australian public have great faith in their ability to see through old fashioned political electioneering and they’ll be very cynical about all of this. Sure, in many cases they’ll be glad to have got new school halls, but in many other cases they’d be saying well we could have spent that money so much more wisely if we’d had some local control and that’s what the Coalition wants to give them if we get elected we’ll be trying to give principals more autonomy, governing councils more local control to make the decisions about how they spend the money that the Commonwealth provides to them.
Journalist: I’ve just got to wonder you know who is running the show behind the scenes there? And who’s guiding the Government and advising the Government on what to do? Because to come up with this idea to have a recognition ceremony for the BER it sounds to me that the same people who have orchestrated this idea were the same people that wheeled out Nova Peris and the Prime Minister the other day with that botched press conference.
Pyne: Well they have a…
Journalist: Can’t even organise a press conference.
Pyne: Well they have a bevy of PR flacks, Pete who are paid a tremendous amount of money, of taxpayers’ money to make the Prime Minister and her Government look as good as possible, now admittedly they’re working with very difficult material, but Nova Peris this week has been a complete fiasco what its exposed is that Julia Gillard is the bully that I’ve always thought she was, Trish Crossin has been despatched as a Senator of the Northern Territory and in fact Marion Scrymgour who is a Northern Territory Indigenous Labor Politician..
Journalist: And served very well mind you. I lived in the Northern Territory for a number of years and she served very well, she’s a very good local Member she was.
Pyne: Well she nominated for the Senate preselection against Trish Crossin, so the idea that they had to pluck Nova Peris out of obscurity, who wasn’t even a Member of the Labor Party in order to get an Indigenous Australian in to the Parliament is just another spin on the part of the Prime Minister rather than the truth. They had the opportunity to choose an Indigenous politician if they wanted one in Marion Scrymgour.
Journalist: I think though her opposition into the NT intervention sort of got in the way of that one and they didn’t like that. Also, can I ask you just a question without notice about the Katter party and the controversial comments that were made overnight about the homophobic comments that Tess Corbett made, what have you got to say about this?
Pyne: Well the kind of lines that the Katter Party candidate Tess Corbett talked about lesbian and homosexuals is so completely out of date, I mean that kind of homophobic slurring of lesbians and homosexuals has no place in modern Australia, it doesn’t have any basis in fact and it’s an embarrassment to both the candidate and Bob Katter and the Katter Party should act to deal with it, it has no place in the kind of society, the inclusive society we want in this country.
Journalist: Reading between the lines in the news articles I’ve got here in front of me it does appear Bob Katter is embarrassed by this and he is going to take some action.
Pyne: Well so he should be embarrassed by it too.
Journalist: Yep. Alright Christopher Pyne appreciate your time this morning and thanks for joining us.
Pyne: It’s a pleasure Pete, thank you.